Can I bring my pet or service animal to the United States?

August 14, 2023
Amanda Rizzo

Our office receives this question quite often, and the rules which regulate the topic involve U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It also depends on which kind of animal a person wishes to import to the United States. Let’s look at some of the most common issues with importing a pet to the United States:

What are pets?

Regardless of the domestication of your animal, pets are defined by the USDA within the following groups: dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, rodents, hedgehogs, reptiles, amphibians and some birds. However, most airlines will only board a dog or cat. American Airlines still permits certain pets to be transported from this pet list.

What are the rules on dogs?

The CDC has a suspension in place through July 30, 2024 for dogs which have been in a country with a high risk of rabies within the 6 months prior to the entry date in the United States. This rule also applies to service dogs. Currently, there are 113 countries on this list. Even during the suspension, it is possible to bring a dog into the U.S. from one of these high risk countries, subject to strict requirements which depend upon whether the dog was previously vaccinated for rabies in the United States or have a foreign vaccination. A dog subject to the suspension which has a foreign vaccination must have a valid CDC Rabies Vaccination and Microchip Record, which is formal proof that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies. Dogs imported without this certificate will be returned to the country of departure at the owner/importer’s expense. It is advisable for these pups to obtain a CDC Dog Import Permit as well, which can make the importation process smoother. Eighteen ports of entry can accept dogs with valid CDC Dog Import Permits.  Foreign-vaccinated dogs also require a rabies serology test, also called a titer, at a CDC approved laboratory. There are approved labs in 40 countries worldwide. Without this serologic test, the pup may require a 28-day quarantine and re-vaccination upon import to the U.S. which must be reserved in advance at a CDC approved animal care facility. Additionally, only five U.S. ports of entry support CDC approved animal care facilities for quarantining and re-vaccination. We suggest reviewing the CDC webpage to review the details specific to your pup(s) and what is needed to ensure a smooth import process to the United States.

There are additional rules in place for dogs coming from a country at risk from foot and mouth disease and screwworm.

If a dog is not traveling from a country indicated as at risk for screwworm or foot and mouth disease OR a high risk for rabies country in the past 6 months, then the dog may enter the U.S. through any port of entry and a certificate of rabies vaccination is not required. The owner/importer must provide a written or verbal statement that the dog has not been in one of these 113 countries at high risk for rabies in the previous 6 months.

May I bring my cat?

Currently there are no U.S. government documentation requirements in place for imported pet cats, however individual airlines may have additional guidelines. Cats are subject to inspection at the port of entry to the United States, and denied entry if they have evidence of an infectious disease. If the cat appears ill, additional veterinary service may be required and paid for at the owner/importer’s expense.

Traveling to Hawaii with pets

Pets imported into the state of Hawaii are subject to locally imposed quarantine requirements.

Do all airlines allow me to bring my pet?

Check with your airline before booking to ensure if your pet is the appropriate size for the cabin, if not, cargo hold transport will be required. Not all airlines have cargo  hold pet transport programs. Delta and United Airlines have discontinued their programs for the time being. American Airlines and some international airlines flying into the United States continue to transport pets in the cargo hold. Even if an airline has a cargo hold pet transport program, additional requirements may apply. For example, American Airlines will not transport a pet in cargo hold if the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common misconceptions

  • Pet passports are not required for dogs and cats imported to the United States, however they are recommended for other pets.
  • The use of sedatives and tranquilizers in animals being transported are generally not recommended either in cabin or cargo hold due to the potential for adverse effects during transport. This view is endorsed by the International Air Transport Association and American Veterinary Medical Association.

If you would like to discuss your upcoming travel plans to the United States with an experienced attorney at MMH, feel free to call our office at 312-427-6163 to schedule an appointment.

From the team at MMH, we wish you and your pet a safe flight!

The material contained in this alert does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

© 2023 Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. All rights reserved. Information may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, or distributed without the express prior written permission of Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

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